Food & Drink

Swansea Family Restaurant, which later moved to Belleville, closes

Swansea Family Restaurant operated three years in Swansea and three years in Belleville before closing abruptly over the weekend.

The owners had been renting the old Arby’s building at 4421 W. Main St. in Belleville. On Tuesday, it was empty except for soda and tea machines, tables and chairs.

Arber Duni owned the restaurant with his wife, Yona Mehmet, formerly known as Yona Mehmetaj. Duni said building issues prompted the closure. He didn’t rule out the possibility of opening another restaurant someday.

“Thank you to our customers for always supporting us,” Duni said.

Swansea Family Restaurant was a good place for breakfast and lunch, said Norm Geolat, 93, of Belleville, who stopped in to eat once or twice a week. He became a regular when it was in the old Dairy Queen building at the corner of North Illinois and Boul Avenue in Swansea.

At one time, the restaurant was a meeting place for Geolat’s 90+ Club.

“I am sorry to see them go,” he said. “I liked their food. It was great food, and (Duni) is a personal friend of mine. He has visited my house. I hate to see anybody go out of business and not make money.”

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Swansea Family Restaurant had been operating on West Main Street in Belleville for nearly two years when it closed over the weekend. The building formerly housed Arby’s and later Tasty’s Chicago Grill. Teri Maddox

The restaurant served American food, including homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, classic dinners such as meatloaf and fried chicken and fish on Fridays.

On Tuesday, there were no words on the message board and no closed sign on the door, but neighbors had noticed a lack of activity.

“They cleared out over the weekend,” said Mac Thomas, a barber at Dimond Hair and Kutz Studio across the street. “They were open last week. They were open Friday. But I noticed the lights were out (Monday), so I walked over there and saw that it was empty.”

A resident of a small apartment building next door also had wondered what was going on. She hadn’t smelled bacon and eggs in the morning as usual.

On Tuesday, Nick Stevens of Auto-Chlor System in St. Louis pulled up in a company van and put a note on the side door of the restaurant, giving the owners a number to call about their rented dishwasher.

“They’re out of business,” he said. “He had to be out of there by Sunday. He had to turn his key in. He wanted us to pick up (the dishwasher) over the weekend, but that’s not how we do it.”

Mehmet opened the Swansea location of Swansea Family Restaurant in 2013 with her father, Agron Mehmetaj. She had immigrated to the United States from Albania six years earlier to attend college, and other family members followed.

The family had operated a restaurant for tourists in Albania.

“We talked to the owner of the Red Apple (Maryville restaurant) and got advice from him,” Mehmet said in 2014. “We wanted something family oriented and thought that St. Louis was just too crowded. We looked at other areas, too, but this one felt right. It has a sense of community.”

In 2016, the restaurant moved to its Belleville location, which formerly housed Arby’s and Tasty’s Chicago Grill. At that time, Mehmet’s brother, Eric, was involved in the business.

The building at 4421 W. Main St. is owned by V.N. Investments in St. Louis, according to St. Clair County property records. Owner Van Nguyen couldn’t be reached for comment.

“(Duni) called me Monday and said, ‘I closed the restaurant,’” Geolat said. “And I said, ‘Well, is there anything I can do for you? Is there any produce or frozen food that I can refrigerate for you?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s all gone.’”

Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.